Countdown to Christmas: Day 17. "What Child is This?"

What Child is This?

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

"Mean estate." It's not a phrase I've heard outside the context of this song.  In this instance, it can signify something "shabby or poor in appearance" or "of low birth or social class."

When Kelly and I were expecting our first child, a friend bought us a crib as a gift. Not just any crib, but a Pottery Barn Sleigh Crib in Ivory White. At the time, we were living in a 796-square foot two-bedroom ranch. It was easily the nicest piece of furniture we owned. We had limited resources in that life-stage, but we were still doing better than Mary and Joseph.

The Holy Family wasn't comfortably middle-class. They were poor. When Mary came to the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate the baby Jesus, she brought two birds with her as a ceremonial offering. Why birds? Leviticus 12:8 says "If a woman cannot afford to bring a lamb, she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons."

The Christ child lies in mean estate to remind everyone, regardless of class, that He belongs to all of us. I once read Pixar Animation Studios, often tells stories of children in single-parent homes (see "Finding Nemo," "Up," "Toy Story," "The Good Dinosaur," "Ratatouille"). The theory is these stories relate to a broader audience.

When the story of Jesus is written, it begins with a humble family in a small town. My friend Naz told me about his childhood home in Mexico. It was a one-room dwelling with a dirt floor. He said when his mother was ready to give birth to one of his brother or sisters, everyone would go outside until the baby arrived.

While our childhood experiences are different, mine is the exception; his is the rule. Billions of people throughout history can describe humble origin stories. To the majority, Jesus's sleeping among the animals is normal; it makes him unassuming, accessible.

"Come, peasant, king to own Him."

Jesus is the King who lifts peasants to their feet and brings kings to their knees. At both the manger and the cross, Jesus is the great equalizer. When he brings salvation, he disregards our bloodlines, our bank accounts and our backstories. He only seeks loving hearts longing to enthrone him. 


Craig Custance